• Impartiality Has to Be Seen to Be Delivered

    It was Lord Chief Justice Hewart who famously declared that “Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done.”

    He knew that confidence in the judicial system could be preserved only if the public could be assured, in the light of what they saw, that fairness and impartiality were constantly maintained.

    What is true of the law is equally true of politics and the way it is presented to the public – something that one might have thought would be top of mind in the case of a self-styled national broadcaster that purports to provide an impartial platform to our political leaders in the midst of an election campaign.

    Lord Hewart’s famous dictum, however, seems to have been studiously and deliberately ignored in the case of TV One’s choice of Mike Hosking as host and moderator of the leaders’ debate on Thursday evening.

    It is not that Mike Hosking, especially with so many critical eyes upon on him, will manifestly and deliberately favour one side rather than another, though more of that later.  It is rather that a substantial number of viewers have no confidence that he can avoid allowing his bias to influence the debate – and that suspicion of partiality must necessarily reduce the value of the debate as a means of informing the public.

    Impartiality might not be directly threatened, in other words, but with Mike Hosking in charge it will not be seen to have been achieved – and we (and TVNZ) know that to be true because we have the evidence of tens of thousands of signatures supporting a petition to replace Hosking with someone – anyone – else.

    It is disappointing that TVNZ should show so little concern – or, to put it another way, so much contempt – for so many of its viewers.

    It may be that TVNZ discounts their views because they have total confidence that such concerns are misplaced and that Mike Hosking is completely unbiased.  If that is the case, it simply shows that not only do they know little of their viewers, but even less of their presenter.

    Hosking, after all, has the privilege of appearing and airing his views through multiple outlets in our media.  TVNZ cannot be unaware that, particularly in print, Hosking has no hesitation in expressing his preference for winners over losers and his contempt for many of his fellow-citizens – indeed, he seems to enjoy the opportunity to rub that in.

    It is simply not possible for him to set aside his essentially right-wing bias (and I am sure that even Hosking himself would not reject that as an accurate description of his views) by donning a cloak of impartiality in order to meet the requirements of a one-off programme.

    In any case, and as many of his critics will attest, it is not the deliberate and obvious skewing of the news and comment that many find objectionable.  It is the constant drip-drip of facial expression, manner, the casual remark, shrug or grimace, that is meant to convey to his audience what they should think.

    Many will be unaware that their opinions are being conditioned by such techniques – but many others, having come to know (but not perhaps to love) Mike Hosking, will be under no illusion as to what is intended.

    And this is to say nothing of whether or not Hosking is up to the job in terms of sheer professional competence.  His lack of understanding of how our electoral system works, as evidenced by his egregious error on Seven Sharp a few nights back, can give us no confidence that he has the ability and knowledge to handle the complexities of his subject.

    TVNZ’s insistence that he is the best, perhaps only, man for the job is a sad (and certainly inaccurate) commentary on the state of New Zealand political journalism.  But, more importantly, it is an equally sad disavowal by the company of its responsibilities, both to their viewers and to the health of our democracy.

    Lord Chief Justice Hewart issued his warning because he understood how important it was that the public should retain their faith in the judicial system.  It is cause for regret and disappointment that TVNZ do not feel a similar sense of concern for maintaining the public’s faith in the impartial presentation of our political news.  Our democracy is the poorer for that oversight.

    Bryan Gould

    29 August 2017

     

1 Comment

  1. Steve says: August 30, 2017 at 4:28 amReply

    “… it is not the deliberate and obvious skewing of the news and comment that many find objectionable. It is the constant drip-drip of facial expression, manner, the casual remark, shrug or grimace, that is meant to convey to his audience what they should think.”

    Bryan, that describes exactly what I have been thinking for years, but could never have expressed so precisely, and eloquently. His mannerisms and quirks (particularly the incessant finger-licking prior to removing the top page from the papers he is holding; table tapping; and his talking-over of his co-presenter), which he *has* been made aware of (if only by way of mockery), are founded on his unassailable belief in his own non-fallibility. Everything he says is shoved at his audience as indisputable fact, which only a moron would disagree with. He has never said, “in my opinion”.

    “His lack of understanding of how our electoral system works, as evidenced by his egregious error on Seven Sharp a few nights back, can give us no confidence that he has the ability and knowledge to handle the complexities of his subject.”

    The following night, he smugly said something like, “it seems I have an apology to make. Let’s see how that goes.” When the moment arrived, it turned out to be anything but – surprise, surprise! Instead, he gave us a “clarification”, which was also anything but, in which he described the Party vote as a “List” vote. In other words, rather than simply admit he got it wrong, and apologise, he “doubled down” and, in doing so, made a further fool of himself – not that he would agree, of course.

    The point is, Mike Hosking, along with other public figures, such as Winston Peters and Sir Bob Jones, is congenitally unable (and, as a consequence, refuses) to admit that he is wrong / has made a mistake. He inately believes himself to be the font of all wisdom, and will not acknowledge any comments to the contrary. This flaw in his character manifests itself in his supreme and insufferable arrogance, which he makes no effort whatsoever to diffuse.

    Given the above, combined with the fact that, as you say, he has a demonstrable right-wing political bias (that, in his arrogance, he would not deny), I totally agree with you that he most certainly is completely unsuitable to host / moderate the Leaders’ Debate tomorrow night.

    Unfortunately for everyone, he would regard criticisms such as yours and mine (should he be prevailed upon not to dismiss them out of hand, if just for a few moments), as evidence that he is clearly on the right track; of his omnipotence.

    As the Donald would say, “Sad”.